Thanks, Dad

Through some of the most formative years of their children’s lives, parents are often the most consistent example of what it means to be human, to be a mature adult. And while we all know that parents can pass on negative impressions to their children, they also have the potential, and perhaps the responsibility, to expose their children to a healthy, fruitful way of living in our world.  In this sense, I think that every parent has the potential to be a child’s hero.

My dad has always been my biggest hero.

My mom tells me that, when I was very young, Dad would strap me into a backpack so I could ride along with him as he hiked through the forest trails around our house.  At age five he taught me to play soccer—a game he’s loved all his life—and began to take me skiing with him on the weekends. When he drove me to high school every morning, we listened to National Public Radio, often prompting discussions about politics, current events, and pop culture.  He would ask me who I would vote for long before I was eighteen.  When my dad and I drove from Seattle to California for my freshman year at Santa Clara, we stopped in Ashland, Oregon to see “King Lear” together because we had enjoyed Shakespeare together since I was a little girl.

What did these memories teach me about being human?  About being a mature adult?  Many things, really.  I think the most important thing I learned from my dad’s companionship will surprise you, though.  More than anything else, I am deeply grateful to my dad for teaching me how to be a woman.  Yes, a woman.

You see, when I was in second grade, boys on the playground teased me incessantly about my enthusiasm for school. But as my eight-year-old classmates assured me that a girl could never be as smart as a boy, my dad was asking my opinion about the latest art gallery we visited.  When I was picked last for the kickball team because the girls were always picked last, I went home to my father, who took me to the high school field on Saturday mornings to teach me to kick the soccer ball as high and as far as he could.  While teen magazines told me that my greatest concerns should be make-up and boys, time and time again, my father would look up from the easy chair in our living room to tell me about the biography he read in his lap, and to ask me about the latest novel I read in mine.

While growing up in a world where young women are still explicitly and implicitly informed that their gender inhibits life’s possibilities, my father consistently communicated that there are no boundaries—especially gendered boundaries—to the ambitions and accomplishments I could pursue.  This was not something we spoke about very often, but the message was reinforced constantly—every time my dad tossed aside society’s messages about girls for the sake of talking to me, listening to me, encouraging me, challenging me—on issues other than just “girly” things.

So in honor of my dad and the celebration of Father’s Day this year, I want to ask you: What are the questions you ask your daughters?  The biological and non-biological ones? What parts of your life do you invite them to engage? And what does all of that communicate about the limits—or limitlessness—of their womanhood?

Thanks, Dad, for asking. Thanks, Dad, for sharing.

Jessica Coblentz thanks Mick McCarthy SJ and St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco for commissioning the original version of this reflection for their ministry with fathers.  She now writes from Seattle where she prepares for graduate studies at Harvard Divinity School.  Follow her writing on the Web at

3 thoughts on “Thanks, Dad

  1. Hey, Thanks Jessica! Great post! :)

    I’ve been thinking this week about the things I learned from my Dad. And, I think one of the most important things I learned is my attitude of gratitude and awareness of my freedom. He would thank me for doing things he asked me to do, like house chores. And then when I would respond with confusion “But Dad, you told me to!” He would say “Oh sure, but you always have freedom and you could have chose not to.” Such an important life lesson for a girl that was growing… in retrospect it was much better than the allowance that my friends received and I never could.

  2. Jessica, it is so true that our fathers teach us how to be women. Mine taught me my first feminist critiques. I can remember singing “California Girls” around age seven and him asking me “Do you think it matters how all those girls felt about that boy?” Huh? I obviously didn’t get it right then, but he was trying to show me that women are subjects too.

    Pres. Obama also touched on parenting daughters in this lovely Father’s Day reflection.

  3. Lovely! Just wonderful. I love your reflections gals! Kate, how amazing is your dad for asking you that?! I was thinking about something similar last night when I was watching TLC’s “what not to wear”. The lady was upset because her hair was cut short and she didnt think guys would like it. Then admitted it was disturbing to her that she put to much stock in what guys would like or not like and the idea that something about her would make them not like her just wrecked her. I yelled at the TV, “who cares if they like it or not!?” A statement that was more about wanting this woman to affirm herself and nothing to do with criticism of men. Its hard not to get defensive I’m sure, but in that instance, I think its important to know that it was about the woman, not a disrespect or dislike of men.

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